There are many ways to live out the Catholic faith with loyalty to her teachings. One does not have to be a cloistered nun or a celibate priest to be considered faithful and true. A lay businessman, a stay-at-home mom, a 19 year-old college student away from home for the first time - all can find ways to live out their calling as faithful Catholics in their daily lives. We may not see ourselves this way as easily as we do the priest or religious person who takes their vows and commits their life to poverty and obedience, but even our mundane, ordinary lives are meant to reflect our Christian faith in everything we do.
This does not mean that we will be perfect, sinless people. We all have our faults. We will sometimes fail, and have to pick ourselves back up again, and try to do better. It is helpful to remember that everyone sins, including the holiest of nun and priest…and even the greatest of Saints. But we all must try to maintain devotion to God and faithfulness to His commands as best we can in whatever our vocation might be.
This can prove difficult out in the “real world” where we are pulled in so many directions and tempted in so many ways. It is easy to become ensnared in the ways of the world and adopt values and beliefs that conflict with Catholic teaching. Many Catholics justify their own falsehood and sinfulness using the faulty logic of the atheistic culture to justify their errors. They try to live comfortably as both a Catholic and a secularist with one foot in each world.
An acquaintance of mine, who was raised Catholic (though he attends Mass infrequently), has adopted such an approach to life. Among other things, he vocally supports gay marriage and criticizes the Church’s teaching on the issue. He claims to believe that life begins at conception, yet he defends a woman’s right to end that life as a personal choice. While in college he led a student coalition that petitioned the administration to install condom machines in the dormitory restrooms. And just this year he spent a week in a motel, hundreds of miles from home, with a woman he had only recently met online.
…But don’t worry. He still describes himself as a “devout Catholic.”
Just to be perfectly clear on this matter, I looked up the word devout. According to the online version of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “devout” means devoted to religion or to religious duties or exercises; expressing devotion or piety; devoted to a pursuit, belief, or mode of behavior. And the Free Online Dictionary reads: Devoted to religion or to the fulfillment of religious obligations; displaying reverence or piety. Every definition I checked used similar words to describe devout.
If my friend is “devout” – if he is “devoted to religion or to the fulfillment of religious obligations” – then it is certainly not “Catholic” that best describes the object of his devotion. He has publicly and privately thumbed his nose at Church teaching and has neglected his duties as a baptized Catholic. He has done more than just sin – he has obstinately persisted in sin, has adopted false moral precepts as his own moral code, and worked to change society to fit this false morality. If he is a “devout Catholic” then what does a “fallen-away Catholic” look like?
Now I do not pretend to know the state of any person’s soul. I am not arguing that my acquaintance is destined for Hell. I could not possibly pass such a judgment on him or anyone else. Only God can make such a claim.
However, I can certainly recognize a false statement when I hear one. I know what “devout” means; and I know what “Catholic” means; and these two words together do not describe my friend accurately. This is not about his personal sins (we all sin); rather, this is about his public actions and public statements made against Catholic teaching while at the same time claiming to have a devotion to the faith. By doing this he brings scandal to the Church while jeopardizing his own salvation and those who might be influenced by him. His words betray the Truth.The challenge of living a devout Christian life is to know the Truth and to pursue that Truth even against what the world tries to substitute in its place. Armed with Truth, the Christian must know sin and void it; and he must know goodness and strive to achieve it. If instead we mislabel Good and Evil, if we confuse reality for a falsehood and place our devotion in something other than Truth, then we eventually mislabel even our own selves. Thus a “devout Catholic” can be one who skips Mass, supports abortion, and distributes condoms on college campuses.
It begs the questions asked by Pontius Pilate so many centuries ago:
“Quod est veritas?” – “What is Truth?”